DUDLEY Zoo is co-ordinating a national conservation campaign to ensure the survival of one of the UK’s rarest spiders.

The Castle Hill attraction has joined forces with nine accredited British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) zoos to act as foster parents to 2,450 fen raft baby spiders.

During the two-month project staff will chart the progress of the spiderlings until they are strong enough to be released into the wild.

Currently the spider is only found in three sites in the UK – Norfolk, East Sussex and South Wales – due to a loss of wetland habitats, with the zoos hoping the project will help secure the future of the species and boost its population sites.

At Dudley Zoo, presenter Caroline Howard, has the all important job of playing mum for 400 baby fen rafts.

She said: "The project is a great example of how much zoos can help native endangered species, and it's brilliant to see zoos around the country working together, along with our other partners, to save one of the UK's protected species of spider.

"We all keep in touch by e-mail, letting each other know which spiders are eating well, what we're feeding them and which are growing up fastest - it's like mumsnet for spiders.”

Caroline has to feed all 400 individually every three to four days, by sucking up two fruit flies and blowing them into the test tube where each spider is living.

She added: "I get so attached to them when I'm looking after them, but it's never too sad when they go back, as I know they are going back into the wild and that I've given them the best headstart I can."